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Good build habits ‘thrown to the side’

Dealers say poor manufacturer quality is compounding their stretched-thin service departments

A workforce shortage in the marine industry is causing manufacturers to struggle to meet demand, and causing quality issues when the boats do arrive, according to retailers responding to a survey about the state of the industry in June.

Those flaws are further causing stress to their overburdened service technicians, and all but 10 percent say they already face a service backlog, according to the survey conducted by Robert W. Baird in conjunction with the Marine Retailers Association of the Americas and Soundings Trade Only.

“The good habits formed in tough times — quality, customer satisfaction — are getting thrown to the side in the name of more and faster, aka greed,” wrote one dealer in the comments section of the survey.

Manufacturers need to improve the quality control of new boats before they are shipped from the factory, another wrote.

When service departments have to shift to address factory errors, it increases the backlog in service, respondents indicated, and half said they were facing a service backlog between two weeks and a month; 27 percent said they were about two weeks out, and 13 percent said they had a backlog greater than a month.

“Manufacturers struggling to deliver products on time and in decent condition, from the low-cost producers to the higher end product we represent,” one wrote. “Worst we have seen in 40 years. Finding help still an issue, and current crew is tired and stressed. No quick fix.”

Lack of product from certain manufacturers has really hurt sales, wrote another dealer, adding, “Delivery issues with both trucking companies and UPS. Very inconsistent and late.”

A few pointed to shortages of outboards 150-hp and greater from two of the market-share leaders as hurting business, and several mentioned that high prices were causing sales to wane.

“Pricing is starting to impact sales; too high of price increases,” said one retailer. Another noted: “The economy is just OK; prices are starting to make things challenging.”

Dealers also said some choppiness in the marketplace was impacting sales, and some indicated that trade war fears were adding to volatility and that they feared the tariffs would increase already too-high prices.

“Strange, fairly volatile market right now,” said one.

Another cited the trade war as something that was working against business.

“The stock market jitters and tariff talk are definitely impacting business,” he said.

Still, sales for many remained brisk, and improved weather caused dealers to be more optimistic about business in the short-term than in May, ticking up to 76 in June from 72 in May. (For context, a 50 rating would provide a neutral outlook.)

Long-term dealer sentiment weakened — from 74 in May to 68 in June — potentially because of service and production backlogs, workforce shortages, quality issues and looming tariffs.

This article originally appeared in the August 2018 issue.

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